As a retired teacher, I often wonder why it is that teachers in Maine are often underpaid and underappreciated.

Almost everyone agrees that a good education paves the way for employment and fiscal stability, and that to get a good education, our students rely on their teachers.

Yet when teachers retire, they often face problems with the Government Pension Offset. This offset not only affects teachers, but also all government employees in the state of Maine, including firefighters, police officers and state or local government employees. Maine law requires contributions to Maine Public Employees Retirement System and not Social Security. Employees have no choice between the two.

This situation also exists in 13 other states.

In 36 states, Social Security spousal and survivor benefits are available to any person whose retired or deceased spouse worked at a job in which he or she earned Social Security benefits. The offset reduces or eliminates these benefits.

According to the Social Security Administration, the Government Pension Offset reduces Social Security spousal or widow(er) benefits by two-thirds of the amount of an individual’s public pension.

Here’s how it works: Jane, a widowed, retired educator, receives a public pension of $600 per month. Her job in the public school system was not covered by Social Security. Her deceased husband, however, earned Social Security benefits from his job in the private sector.

Two-thirds of Jane’s public pension — $400 — will be cut from her Social Security widow’s benefits. If she were eligible for $500 in survivor benefits, the GPO would reduce her benefits to $100 ($500 – $400 = $100).

This reduction ignores the fact that the deceased spouse invested that money throughout his or her career and often in states besides Maine. How can Maine take money invested in Social Security in other states? Where does this money go?

The National Education Association estimates that nine out of 10 public employees affected by the Government Pension Offset lose their entire spousal benefit.

This can make the difference between self-sufficiency and poverty. The offset has the harshest impact on those who can least afford the loss: lower-income women. Women tend to live longer than men and need their retirement income for health care and living expenses.

Teaching today is a challenging profession. Attracting high-quality teachers to Maine is vital to ensuring that our children receive a top-notch education and are competitive for colleges and jobs when they graduate.

Because Maine teachers do not pay into the Social Security Fund, they are vulnerable to the effects of the Government Pension Offset as they reach retirement years.

Why would someone enter education after a career in the private sector when they know their retirement funds will be reduced drastically? The offset is costing Maine experienced educators.

I have thought a great deal about how this situation can be remedied.

Proposed legislation (HR 1332 and S 113) contain key provisions that help protect the retirement of public servants. These bills are geared toward the states such as Maine, in which public employees do not contribute to Social Security. Nonpassage of these bills has financially hurt Maine’s public retirees.

These retirees should receive the full measure of retirement income they have earned from both their state pensions and Social Security entitlements.

People who believe that education is vital to Maine children and that attracting top-notch teachers to Maine is important, should join me in contacting Maine’s U.S. senators and representatives and telling them HR 1332 and S 2010 must pass this year and become law.

We need to let them know that we don’t want to hear that passing the bills would be too expensive.

Thousands of employees have devoted their careers to providing top-quality, public service for the citizens of Maine. These public service workers are being negatively affected by the failure of our nation’s political leaders to pass this legislation.

It is a shame that the public service retirees in 14 of 50 states must fight for their entitlement to the full measure of retirement income they have earned. It needs to stop this year with the passage of this legislation.

There can be no excuse for failure.

Sherry Spaulding, of South China, is a retired teacher.

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